By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Our family attended events in St. Paul three of the four evenings of the RNC ("Blood, Sweat, and Tear Gas," 9/3/08). We thought that the level of police presence was completely disproportionate to the level of protest. The last day in particular we saw large groups of people being told that their "right to peaceably assemble" had expired. Their "freedom of speech" was curtailed because of the lack of proper permits. And the "free speech stage" promised by the authorities was shut down before it was even allowed its first words. I am thankful I was able to make it safely to the Xcel with my family. There were plenty of conveniently placed portable toilets, but there were also more than enough black-body-armor-clad soldiers, some with assault rifles and grenade launchers and all bearing large wooden clubs. This type and scale of force was absolutely disproportionate to the number and demeanor of the demonstrators. The police presence was calculated to intimidate, and it was effective.
If only we had equipped our troops this well before they went into Iraq.
I was in town for the RNC last week. I arrived from Denver after spending the week there covering the DNC. I also was present in NYC for the 2004 RNC. I must say that what I witnessed in St. Paul scared the hell out of me. It was laid out like an occupied city, with military checkpoints at breaks in the concrete-and-wire barricades. The police were like a search-and-destroy military occupation force: no-knock, gunpoint home invasions; preemptive strikes on dissidents; armor-clad storm troopers clubbing and cursing young women in the streets. I am not using hyperbole here—I have hours and hours of video capturing these events, as do, I am certain, many, many others.
The 2004 RNC in New York was a frightening experience—police raided and arrested protesters in advance, with a clear intent to try to keep them out of the view of the comfortable Republican delegates. It was like the NYPD was hired to help secure the convention for Bloomberg as a sort of aesthetic control squad, to make NYC safe for the leisure-suited wannabe big shots. Denver 2008 was a quantum leap ahead of '04 NYC—the police were far more heavily outfitted, and the tone of the operation was much more military. Nevertheless, Denver was small change compared to the outright occupation of St. Paul that took place last week.
Don DeBar Ossining, New York
I am not an overly religious person, but I know good advice when I hear it. The Bible says, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," and however hard it is, in my daily life I try to do just that. So I do not despise the men and women who acted as agents of law enforcement at the Republican National Convention, despite the frightful and unconstitutional actions they have taken against me over the past few days. Even though I and hundreds of other protesters, legal observers, videographers, journalists, concert-goers, medics, and bystanders who were outside the RNC have had our rights grossly abused, I shall still try my best to love the people under those police uniforms, just like I try my best to love all people and all of creation. It is my love for humanity and justice that brought me to the protests in the first place.
But the sin I cannot love. This week, hundreds of peaceful, politically active civilians were treated by the law enforcement in St. Paul as enemy combatants rather than as the largely nonviolent, peacefully assembled citizens we were. Over 800 people were arrested. A few are perhaps guilty of what they were charged with, but the overwhelming majority are not. In an abuse of police power so vicious that it mocked the very foundations of our democracy, hundreds of innocents were scooped up, handcuffed, pinned with false charges, and thrown in jail. I was one of them. I spent a good deal of the last week in a tiny jail cell on 23-hour lockdown for a crime I did not commit. The charges the police have pinned on me are frighteningly serious and absolutely fabricated. My family is devastated and I am outraged. Worse yet, there are hundreds of innocent people in situations just like mine, many of whom were brutalized and pepper-sprayed without provocation and denied adequate access to medical treatment while in jail. What was our crime? Being young, being politically active, being awake? Raising a voice of dissent? Bearing witness? Last time I checked, I lived in America, where I was supposed to be free. These fantastic abuses of power set a dangerous precedent that threatens to erode our freedoms of speech, assembly, and belief, and must not be allowed to continue. Those who care to protect our constitutional rights should call St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, and Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin to demand the dismissal of all charges for those arrested during and leading up to the Republican National Convention. If the rights of one citizen are endangered, so too are the rights of all of us. If one citizen is silenced, so too are we all.
Emily Koritz Minneapolis
Anybody who studies politics, current events, and general human behaviors will understand the ramifications and consequences of a "safe and secure" society. More directly, the forthcoming police state is coming to fruition by the day. The RNC was a sobering example of this growing trend. Consider the fact that St. Paul was given $50 million in federal funds, courtesy of the taxpayer, for convention security purposes. Amongst the spoils were Taser guns, $1,200 police bikes, and everything in between. Nothing was spared. An estimated $30 million was spent on officer compensation alone. Compounded with this is over 3 million dollars' worth of closed circuit TV cameras, which now watch the majority of downtown St. Paul. Better pick up that Big Mac wrapper you just dropped....
Aside from the monetary element of this very elaborate operation was the absolute churlish attitudes and unscrupulous disposition of the police, much of which I witnessed firsthand. Combine the taxpayer-funded provisions with over 3,500 charged-up police officers, and you have a lethal recipe. Very few of the officers I encountered were practicing the "protect and serve" mentality that was once the norm. This was a show of force that was completely out of line and beyond shame. It was the equivalent of me stocking my bar-league hockey team with Gaborik, Boogaard, and Backstrom and playing against some ice mites.
The Xcel Energy Center and surrounding properties were nothing short of a military-style encampment. Guarding the fortress perimeter were two tall steel fences resembling the scene of an Armageddon movie. Commando guards reminiscent of a videogame glared at anybody who dared look their way. Large contingents of police, on everything from horseback to four-wheelers, provided sufficient intimidation to those present. I can still hear that concussion grenade they threw on St. Peter Street to disperse the few dozen civilians that were amicably voicing their opinions. I witnessed numerous arrests of unimposing individuals who would have had a difficult time wreaking havoc at a girls' JV volleyball game. These people, agree with them or not, were for the most part peaceful and acted with class. There is no doubt that a few bands of hooligans were present to cause some trouble and break a few windows, but these were in the minority.
The St. Paul Police Department and Ramsey County authorities could have easily handled security for the convention by themselves. Instead, the infrastructure was laid for an overly equipped police force and a surveillance city, all paid for by you and me. Civil liberties were cast aside in this episode of overreaction and excessive force. Concurrently, the narrow-minded politicians at the state Legislature passed the Minnesota Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002, which mirrored the tyrannical Patriot Act authored by the federal government. The eight individuals now facing felony terrorist charges from Ramsey County are products of a dangerous legal precedent set forth by this legislation.
We can only hope that people will substitute their complacency for action and replace ignorance with enlightenment. Good ol' St. Paul will never be the same. I am embarrassed and ashamed to call myself a Minnesotan.
Tim Goar Mound
I am writing to make note of several errors published in the article regarding the Iglehart raid ("Whacked by FBI Moles," 9/3/08). Although the article states that I, Shelby Eidson, am a member of I-Witness Video, this is incorrect. I am not a journalist, nor a member of I-Witness Video. I was careful to emphasize this during the interview with City Pages reporter Matt Snyders on Sunday 8/31/08. I am an independent activist who was also residing at the house and was detained alongside members of I-Witness. Also, though I did make many phone calls while trapped within the house, I did not contact or attempt to contact the Coldsnap hotline. The article incorrectly states that: "Eidson and company placed frantic phone calls to Coldsnap Legal Collective." In addition, I do not recall using any expletives during the interview. The article incorrectly quotes me as using the word "fuck." The standoff between activists and police at this location lasted for about three hours, not one hour, as the article states. One of the most important details regarding the raid is that the search warrant was not presented until about two hours after police arrived. When finally presented, it listed the wrong address, and though police were informed of this, they broke down the door and entered anyway. Also, federal law requires that a subpoena be provided when a search of press materials is being executed. Despite the fact that two members of the press, Eileen Clancy of I-Witness and Elizabeth Press of Democracy Now!, were in the house, a subpoena was not presented. Please make note of these corrections, as it is important that the story is accurate. Thank you for your coverage of this issue.
Shelby T. Eidson St. Paul
Snyders Responds: When interviewed, Shelby Eidson stated that, although not a journalist, she was with I-Witness video to handle "logistical stuff," such as cooking. I never called her a journalist and apologize if the piece implied that she was. The information in the article was provided by Eidson, in addition to two residents (Daniel Haynes and Julian Grant) who were in the other side of the duplex during the raid. They both said that the preceding standoff lasted "about an hour." During this time, they placed calls to Coldsnap Legal Collective. The piece inaccurately states that "Eidson and company" did so. I apologize for the error. All direct quotes were replicated verbatim, all the way down to syntax.